Paul Davis: Police offer tips on how to avoid being carjacked

An ambitious crew of armed carjackers took three different cars in three different locations from three different victims in less than an hour in Philadelphia early in the morning on January 27th. 

Over the many years of my covering the cops, I’ve witnessed some quick and bold crimes while out on ride-alongs with Philadelphia police officers, but this must be a dubious record of some kind. 

Thankfully, no one was injured, although no doubt the victims were traumatized by having their cars stolen by desperate gun-wielding criminals.  

The carjacking crew remains at large, and they are considered armed and dangerous. 

“We know these are definitely the same people,” Philadelphia Police Captain John Ryan told reporters. “It’s the same getaway car. It’s like a blue Honda CRV that we believe was stolen.”

I interviewed Captain John Ryan, the commanding officer of the Major Crimes Division, a few years ago. He noted that carjacking was a city-wide issue.

“Carjacking is a shocking crime, and the elderly victims often suffer heart attacks and other injuries that are a result of being mishandled during the crime.”

Captain Ryan suggests that to avoid becoming a carjacking victim, one should always be aware of your surroundings. 

“Know where you are, who is near you, and who is approaching you,” Captain Ryan said. 

Police officers say carjackings can be avoided by taking a series of crime prevention steps.

Below are some tips the police offer:

To avoid becoming a carjacking victim, one should be alert and not distracted or deep in thought. 

Listen to your instincts If you feel uncomfortable or notice an unwelcome stranger approaching your vehicle, leave the area. 

Always enter your vehicle swiftly and without hesitation. 

Park your car in well-lit areas. 

Don’t park near walls, bushes, or dumpsters. 

Drive with your windows locked. 

Avoid taking streets with frequent stops and intersections.

Keep some space between your car and the car ahead of you when stopped for a red light or stop sign, so you can maneuver around it if need be. 

Think twice before helping a stranded motorist. Carjackers sometimes use a ruse to trap victims.

Know your vehicle identification (VIN) number, which will assist the police in recovering your car. 

If another vehicle bumps into your car or truck, find a safe, well-lit place with other people around to stop. Don’t immediately get out of your vehicle.

Keep your doors locked and windows shut.

Hide your valuables in the car. 

Use of anti-theft devices like a steering wheel lock or a gearshift column lock.

Always have your cell phone handy and charged.

Avoid being alone in your car in high-crime neighborhoods and isolated roads. 

Don’t sit in your car with the door unlocked or the windows rolled down. 

Don’t park and use isolated ATMs.

One police tip that I would not recommend is tossing your car keys far away when confronted by armed carjackers. In my experience, armed robbers are short on patience and quick to anger, so throwing your car keys into a bush might very well get you shot.

I have a license to carry a firearm and I am usually armed. I’m military trained and experienced, but I would never recommend that a potential carjacking victim initiate a shootout with armed carjackers. 

There have been cases where an armed potential victim shot the would-be carjackers and thwarted the robbery. But conversely, there have also been cases where the car owner was shot and killed.

Carjackers usually have their guns out and ready to fire, so they have the drop on the car owner, whose firearm is probably still in its holster under a jacket and shirt.  

Refusing to be a victim and offering armed resistance to a couple of armed carjackers is a personal risk that one should consider carefully – and quickly. If alone, one might surely be tempted to defend oneself and property, but if one were with their family, the risk of them being harmed might make one rethink their immediate reaction. Insurance, after all, will cover the loss of the car. 

A friend of mine was carjacked while waiting to pick up his daughter from work late one evening. He was armed and briefly considered going all “Dodge City,” as he put it, with the two carjackers. But he thought of his daughter, who might have come outside just as the bullets were flying, so he handed over his car keys to the carjackers. 

“You can always buy more stuff,” Captain Ryan told me. “You can’t buy more you.”  

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times. He can be reached at

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